'Can't Monitor' Movement of Migrant Workers, States Should Take Action: Supreme Court

The bench refused to entertain an application seeking a direction for authorities to provide food and shelter to migrants on the move during the lockdown.

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said it is impossible for the courts to monitor or stop the movement of migrant workers across the country, and it is for the government to take necessary action.

The Centre told the top court that migrant workers across the country were being provided transportation by the government to their destinations, but they have to wait for their turn rather than starting on foot amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A bench headed by Justice L. Nageswara Rao refused to entertain an application seeking a direction to the Centre to ask all district magistrates to identify stranded migrant workers and provide shelter and food to them before ensuring their free transportation home in view of the recent incident at Aurangabad in which 16 workers were mowed down by a goods train.

Also read: Perception, Legality and Politics of the Migrant Worker Crisis in Lockdown

The bench, which also comprised Justices S.K. Kaul and B.R. Gavai, asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta whether there was any way to stop these migrants workers from walking on the roads.

Mehta said states are providing inter-state transport to migrant workers but if the people start walking on foot instead of waiting for transportation, then nothing can be done. He said authorities can only request these people not to start walking on foot as using any force to stop them would be counter-productive.

Mehta told the bench, which was hearing the matter through video-conferencing, that subject to the agreement between state governments everybody would get a chance to travel to their destinations.

Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, who had filed the plea, referred to recent incidents of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh where migrant workers were killed in accidents on highways.

“How can we stop it?” the bench observed, adding that states should take necessary action on these issues.

The bench, which said it was not inclined to hear the plea, observed that it is impossible for the court to monitor who is walking and who is not walking.

Srivastava had filed the plea soon after the Aurangabad incident in which 16 migrant workers, who were returning to Madhya Pradesh and had slept on railway tracks, were mowed down by a goods train.

Also read: How Much Will Sitharaman’s Plan for Migrant Workers and Farmers Really Help?

The interim application, filed in a disposed PIL, had said that the deceased labourers belonged to Shahdol and Umaria Districts of Madhya Pradesh and were walking from Jalna in Maharashtra to Aurangabad Railway Station to board trains to reach hometowns.

After walking for several kilometres, they decided to rest on the railway tracks between Satana and Karmad and were mowed down by a goods train, it had said.

Earlier, the top court had disposed of the PIL seeking migrant workers’ welfare during the pandemic and consequential lockdown saying that the Centre and states are taking appropriate steps to provide them relief.